By Keia Mastrianni
El Pulgarcito De America
4816 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205
The Central Avenue corridor is home to a rich pocket of international eats. You could drive two miles north of Center City and essentially tour the globe. That’s all in thanks to a diverse immigrant population who call the Queen City home, adding dynamism to Charlotte’s growing culinary scene.
Drive north on Central Avenue, over Eastway Drive, past Rosehaven Drive, and you will see bright red neon letters that spell out the name “El Pulgarcito Restaurante” on the facade of a humble building. Here, husband and wife Henry and Delmi Chirinos share their native cultures through food.
The two opened El Pulgarcito De America in 2001, serving food from their respective countries of origin, Honduras and El Salvador. In 1990, Delmi Chirinos moved to New York City from El Salvador and began working in restaurants. She met Henry on the job, and the two began a life together, sharing a common dream: to own their own restaurant.
The Chirinos would realize that dream, first in New York and again in Charlotte, where they moved to be closer to family.
Inside the establishment, young Latina servers dressed in hot pink polo shirts dash in and out of the kitchen during a busy lunch hour. They carry hot bowls of sopa de res—a traditional El Salvadoran beef rib soup piled high with vegetables—and carne asada, with green plantains, to large tables of Latino workers stopping in for a quick, comforting plate. El Pulgarcito De America most famously serves the popular pupusa of El Salvador, a thick corn tortilla, served warm and stuffed with meat, cheese or refried beans with a side of curtido, a snappy, fermented cabbage slaw. This is Latino fast food. The menu also includes Mexican food items, like tacos, fajitas and enchiladas.
The plates at El Pulgarcito De America are generous, and the business is built mainly by word of mouth. For the Chirinos, El Pulgarcito De America is a place where they can share their love of cooking and home to those familiar with their culture and those looking to expand their palates.
“What we do is hard work,” said Delmi Chirinos, “but our happy customers make it all worth it.”
Euro Grill & Cafe
2719 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205
It’s 10 a.m. inside the Euro Grill & Cafe on Central Avenue. Coffee is brewed, and Dino Mehic is in the kitchen prepping for the day. He proudly wears a blue and white Bosnia and Herzegovina soccer jersey in anticipation of the match against Belgium on this particular afternoon, which the avid fan and former soccer player planned to screen inside his small cafe.
Mehic came to Charlotte from Bosnia in 1998. It’s a country in southeastern Europe that was once part of the former war-torn Yugoslavia. Having spent his life working in kitchens throughout Europe and Germany, Mehic opened Bosna Market in 2003 in a separate location along Central Avenue, selling European snacks, beers and other hard-to-find fare. At the urging of friends, he opened Euro Grill & Cafe in 2013 and consolidated his properties to one. Bosna Market is now attached to the small family-owned cafe. You can find Dino and his wife, Amela, along with son, Mehmed, and daughter, Minela, working together to bring Bosnian-style comfort food to a small dining room decorated with quaint, checkered tablecloths.
After presenting a Slovenian soda called Cockta, made from rose hips and herbs, to the table, Mehic takes to the kitchen to prepare ćevapi, his best-selling menu item. Ćevapi are small, skinless sausages made from ground beef and veal and shaped into breakfast sausage-sized links. The bright red sausages are cooked on the flat top and then served on Bosnian flatbread called lepinje. The ćevapi are topped with a sprinkling of diced white onions and then served with two traditional condiments—ajvar, a mild (or spicy) sauce made of eggplant, tomato and red peppers and kajmak, a sort of Bosnian sour cream made of margarine, cream and water. Mehic drops the plate of ćevapi on the table and says to “eat it however you like it.” He also sets down a small plate filled with a lovely honey-soaked pastry called hurmašice and ružica, a delicate phyllo-based dessert similar to baklava.
Euro Grill & Cafe serves other Bosnian specialties, like burek—phyllo pastries filled with ground beef—and veal kabobs called ražnjići along with simple salads made of tomato, onion, cucumber and schnitzel, born from Mehic’s days of cooking in Germany. The vibe is casual and familial. After your meal, duck into the Bosna Market next door for European specialties such as rose hip jam, Kinder chocolates—delectable German milk chocolates—and ajvar to spread on homemade sandwiches.
Who knew? With Central Avenue’s offerings, a taste of Europe is closer than ever.